Aerosols, lack of PPE worry some as San Diego's dental offices reopen

Posted at 5:58 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 20:58:45-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — As dental offices start to reopen in San Diego County, there are still concerns about safety for patients and staff.

Linh Nakamura is a registered dental hygienist who went back to work.

There are two big worries in the industry right now—aerosols during procedures and PPE, or personal protective equipment.

Some of the equipment typically used produce aerosols that “can splatter and hang out in the air,” Nakamura said.

“The worry is that if it’s still around and we’re wearing a gown, it may transfer to the next patient,” she added. Nakamura said there have been changes, including wearing disposable gowns, and with equipment. She said they are not using certain tools like polish and the Cavitron, which can produce particles in the air.

Nakamura said she feels safe right now because dentist has been using PPE, even before the coronavirus crisis.

"Now, it’s at a higher level with the N95 masks," she said.

However, that safety might not last long. Her office already had a couple boxes of N95s in stock, which is about 60 masks total. They got five additional masks from the local Dental Association, as well as some surgical face masks. However, trying to get more N95 respirators is extremely difficult because none of the supply companies they use have any stock.

The guidelines from the California Department of Public Health recommend 2 weeks supply of PPE. If they see multiple patients a day, Nakamura said their current supply may only last a few days.

"That’s a huge concern," she said.

In late April, the president of the California Dental Association said Level 3 masks and face shields can be used if N95s are not available.

"We're not on the front lines fighting COVID-positive patients, but we are trying to keep other patients healthy," Nakamura said.

Nakamura said they will be taking patients temperatures when they walk into the dental office. Many patients may also be asked a series of health questions before they are able to book an appointment with their dentist.